I want to craft a stellar plot. At the end of the day, that is one of my biggest dreams: to compel readers to follow the ups and downs of my story, to take away a great deal of emotional and moral heft, and incorporate my work in some way into their own lives. However, as grand as my dream is, a practical and methodical approach to writing is a necessary first step. In keeping my writing organized, I decided to look at the basic three-act structure of a story and what keeps it interminably relevant to all writers, authors, and bloggers. The classic three-act structure is also what makes our writing marketable and more likely to reach a bigger audience!
Once again, I’m drawing upon the work of Paula Munier in her book, Plot Perfect. Paula explains that every single story is composed of three parts, but that the classic view of the beginning, middle, and end is simply not enough to make a compelling story. She then outlines two approaches to expanding upon this model: the Plot Points Approach, and the Hero’s Journey Approach.
The Plot Points Approach is a play-by-play of all the major and minor events that occur in your story – and how they are interwoven together to make a genuinely engaging tale. You might recognize the parts of this approach, which are as follows:
- INCITING INCIDENT: The big change that throws the story into gear; can be the death of someone, the start of a new journey, or the point at which a good guy decides to challenge the big bad wolf.
- Plot Point 1: The next shift in the story which further changes the characters and drives the protagonist or main character to engage in something new.
- Midpoint: The risky point in which the story may lull. This is a great time to answer questions or begin to illuminate a solution for the inciting incident that happened right at the beginning.
- Plot Point 2: Further developments shake our characters and introduce the danger of life-altering ramifications.
- Climax: The summation of all the unanswered questions, struggles, and hopes propelling your story forward.
- Denouement: A return to peace and order. Many of the characters are deeply changed, and we as the readers feel a sense of closure and relief over what has transpired.
This is a great approach for those who prefer a more analytical and sequential style of writing, and who may see their story as a puzzle that they want to piece together.
For those of us who prefer a more “gut-level” and character-driven approach, the Hero’s Journey may be our first choice. As you might expect, this method of creating your story revolves around what happens to your key characters. Has your protagonist just survived a school shooting and must now learn how to live with PTSD? Or have they been recently dumped by their partner? Then their journey toward self-discovery will be what drives your story forward.
A great quote from Joseph Campbell, the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, illustrates just how inspiring and engaging the Hero’s Journey can be:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
I myself lean more towards the Hero’s Journey Approach; it just feels more personal and passionate to me. However, I can definitely see myself utilizing the Plot Points Approach for certain types of stories that I’d like to write in the near future.
Which of these two approaches do you identify with more? Do your plot points always affect your characters, and vice-versa? I’d love to hear your thoughts and start a running dialogue.
Until next time, fellow writers!